Inland Empire CSA




De Luz Farms and Nursery is owned by Gary and Melodee Leavitt. The following articles are a brief history of their farm:


The start of something great.

Back in 1997 Gary and Melodee Leavitt were looking for property in the De Luz area of Temecula, California. They were attracted to the area as it reminded Gary of upstate New York where he grew up, and Utah where Melodee grew up.

They found an older, avocado grove on twelve acres that had a great views, and was a perfect site for a new home.

At the time the grove was split almost evenly between Avocado and Star Ruby Grapefruit trees. The Avocado trees were declining from a common California Avocado disease known as "root rot". (For more on this disease click here.) The disease slowly kills the trees until they need to be removed.

Also, at that time Gary was working as a District Manager for Home Depot, and Melodee was a Call Center Manager for Home Depot. They received a lot of good-natured kidding about their part time job as "farmers".


An important change.

As the years went on, the Leavitts found the time they spent working on their farm much more satisfying than the time spent on their “real” jobs. During those first critical years they became obsessed with trying to stop the disease that was killing their avocado trees.

Grandson, AJ enjoying the Certified Organic Orange Grove. Click to enlarge. Photo credit: Karima SalmiAt the time, the grove was being grown conventionally, with the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The more research they did the more they were convinced that perhaps the way the trees were being cared for was acerbating the problem.

In 2000, they converted all of their property to Organic growing practices. They stopped using all chemical fertilizers, herbicides and chemical pesticides. Slowly, many of the trees responded. The use of manure, compost and other organic growing materials had a positive effect and gave the Leavitts hope that they were on the right track. They also noticed how much better the fruit tasted and looked.

"Feeding the soil with organic matter instead of ammonia and other synthetic fertilizers has proven to increase nutrients in produce, with higher levels of vitamins and minerals found in organic food, according to the 2005 study, “Elevating Antioxidant levels in food through organic farming and food processing.” ~ Organic Center State of Science Review.

Many of the problems they had encountered growing the conventional way (using chemicals) were no longer a problem. They even started to bring in bees every year to pollinate the plants, and it made a tremendous difference in the production levels. They now keep bees year round on their property.


A hobby becomes a business.

Construction on their home (straight from the pages of Sunset magazine) was finished in 2002. About the same time, Gary was able to say "goodbye" to Home Depot, and focus on Organic farming as a business.

Future Organic farmers admiring Gary's work. Photo credit: Karima Salmi. Click to enlarge.This allowed the necessary time for Gary to design and build a state-of-the-art 5,800 square foot climate controlled greenhouse that is computer controlled. The greenhouse was completed in 2004, allowing the Leavitts to venture into growing Certified Organic transplants (small starter plants transplanted to produce field crops).

Gary and Melodee's hard work was awarded with both the greenhouse and the grove being Certified as Organic.


A happy experiment.

Several years ago the Leavitts noticed how well their houseplants did when they were watered using water from their Koi (Japanese Carp) pond. This motivated Gary to start researching how this might benefit his greenhouse operation. While doing research, he came across a new technology called Aquaponics.

Aquaponics is the combination of recirculation aquaculture and hydroponics.

Hydroponics is growing plants in a solution of water and nutrients, without soil. The solution is created by adding the elements a plants needs to water, which is fed directly to the plant’s roots. In some hydroponic systems the roots are in a growing medium which keeps them moist, aerated and helps to support the plant. Hydroponics provides the plant with the ideal water and nutrient ratios and optimum conditions for growth.

In aquaculture, the water quickly becomes nutrient rich due to the fish digesting their food and producing affluent. The waste water is usually filtered and/or disposed of to keep the tank water free of toxic buildups.

In aquaponics, you grow plants and fish together in one integrated system.  The fish waste provides a food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. This creates a sustainable ecosystem where both plants and fish can thrive.

Aquaponics is the ideal answer to a fish farmers problem of disposing of nutrient rich water and a hydroponic growers need for nutrient rich water.

Gary's first experiment involved a single table in his greenhouse and some "volunteers" from his Koi pond. After a lot of trial and error he was able to produce some very healthy plants. They now have eleven tables producing about 3,000 plants monthly.

In the future, they plan on growing edible fish, but for now they continue to raise some very happy Koi.